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Five and twenty past

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wakeover | 12:21 Tue 06th Nov 2007 | Phrases & Sayings
11 Answers
Further to answers posted three years ago, are there any further views on my question? thus:
My late Father had a habit of saying five and twenty past or five and twenty to instead of twenty five, when telling the time. How, when, where and why did this originate please?

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This usage goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. A little later, in the 13th century, there is a written reference to "the five-and twentieth day of November". Shakespeare uses it in The Tempest, referring to swimming "five and thirty leagues".
It is also the standard format for numbers even today in German, if my memory serves me correctly.
Question Author
Well that's a monster of an answer and very much appreciated, thanks
Quite often used in poetry when it helps the rhythm and also to give an impression of "olde worlde" or foreign language.

Sing a song of sixpence.....four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie

WHEN I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
�Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.�
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
�The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
�Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.�
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, �tis true, �tis true. AE Housman


I thought suddenly of Mother, scolding me when I was two-and-twenty, saying I must talk more when we went calling. Affinity - Sarah Waters (set in the late 1800s)
Question Author
Thankyou dundurn
I've just thought about this and I say 'five and twenty past 2', but 'twenty five to 3'. Does this make me half anglo saxon or something?
In Gaelic, twenty-five is sometimes written as �c�ig air fhichead� or five on twenty and ninety-one is sometimes written �ceithir fhichead is a haon dheug� or four times twenty and one plus ten.
And Abraham Lincoln referred to 'three score years and ten'.
Lincoln came to the phrase rather late, H. It's in the King James Bible at Psalms 90 verse 10. But that just confirms how old this time-usage is in English.
Roger, QM. Just shows it was still in use with Abe..
I am a 71year old man and still use five and twenty past and five and twenty to. Do not know how it originated but we all used it in Essex (UK) when I was growing up.
In Dutch we say five and twenty (as in German), so I think that many centuries ago the English said five and twenty (and six and twenty, for and sixty etc.) too. Somehow, this must have changed into twenty five over the years.

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